Super Bowl XLVII is only a few days away, and the story lines have been worked. And by worked I mean worked to death. At this point I think nearly every possible angle to this game has been analyzed and debated. Everything from pre-game rituals to in-game adjustments, to post-game parties has been broken down and given air time.
But when I look at this game, I look at it from and Xs and Os point of view, and as I’ve often said, in college football the difference between winning and losing is often in the individual matchups. I understand this is the NFL, but with the San Francisco 49ers run a modified version of a college offense, matchups become much more important. And in this game, it could come down to the play of one Baltimore Ravens linebacker that decides the outcome of this game.
The player in question is linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Ellerbe plays a huge part in the Ravens defense, whether it’s their base 3-4 or the nickel. This is due in large part to his athleticism. I expect to see the Ravens run a great deal of base defense against the 49ers, due to the zone read. They cannot afford to pull a linebacker off the field and lean toward the passing game. The 49ers are too physical for that trade off. The Ravens are going to need to sell out against the run, and that’s where Ellerbe and his role in this defense will be defined. Ellerbe is an aggressive and athletic backer who is used in large part as a coverage player due to his high football IQ and quickness. But in this game, his role may look very different, while still taking advantage of those tools.
In brief, at the snap, when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick makes his initial read it’s going to be the end he reads. On Ellerbe’s side that will likely be defensive end Haloti Ngata. What we have seen is the key to a good zone read is to run play side away from a team’s best defensive end, and when they bite on the fake and work down the line, it gives the quarterback a clean run to the backside. The key to that backside run is the tackle works down and blocks the outside linebacker, in this case Albert McClellan. If all that works, it’ll be up to Ellerbee to circle around, using his athletic ability stay clean of the guard assuming he isn’t in a double team, and fill that lane that Kaepernick will have. But if he dives inside, giving up that lane, the next line of defense against Kaepernick is going to be safety Ed Reed who’ll be a dozen yards off the line of scrimmage.
Obviously this will happen on the other side as well, but I expect the 49ers to run their power more to the right, and leave the backside left for Kaepernick more than the other way around. You can watch long run after long run and that inside linebacker getting too deep into the fake, and can’t get back around. If the Ravens have a shot at stopping the 49ers, it’s going to be on the play of Ellerbe defending the outside lane on the zone read look. He really will be the key to this game.
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